Half the Sky in China
By Sherry Zhang
August 24, 2012
I was recently asked what it’s like to be a woman working in a male-dominated field, particularly since my job involves traveling throughout China and meeting mostly male corporate managers. Since women are still typically treated as inferior to men in many Asian societies, some people may assume that I frequently experience uncomfortable situations. But in truth, I have rarely noticed. I think many may have misconceptions about China’s attitude toward women.
Whether you agree or disagree with government policies in mainland China, one good thing I believe the Communist party has done in the 60 years since it came into power is to try to promote women’s rights. True, women in China today cannot yet claim total equality and, socially, boys are still prized (as the rate of infanticide among baby girls in rural areas demonstrates). But overall, women have seen their status rise significantly over the past several decades. While growing up in China, I was told in elementary school that women hold up “half the sky,” and that everyone, male or female, can aspire to achieve their best. Today, after two decades of fast-paced economic development, many stories attest to the success of women in China. According to Forbes, half of the world’s 14 female billionaires are Chinese—the highest ratio of any country—while a Grant Thornton survey reports that in business, women in China now hold 34% of senior management positions and 19% of female managers are CEOs, much higher than world average of 8%. (By contrast, the United Arab Emirates and Japan hold the lowest percentage of women in management positions.) The average participation rate by women in the workforce is also high in China at 67% versus 58% in the U.S. and 48% in Japan, according to McKinsey & Company.
In addition to making strides into the board room and onto the Forbes list, women in China have also proven to be powerful forces in decisions related to household domestic consumption. As a recent survey by MasterCard pointed out, three-quarters of women surveyed said they control the family purse strings, making them prime targets for driving rising consumption. This segment presents a tremendous opportunity for companies that can resonate with them. Companies that can cater to the unique and shifting tastes of this group may fare well. Many international firms, selling items from cosmetics to luxury bags, have expanded operations aggressively in China to capture women’s attention.
It has been a long march for women in China to get to where they are now and the road ahead may still be full of twist and turns. Luckily for me and many of my peers, being raised in modern China with a strong emphasis on equal rights has paved a path for us to interact comfortably with corporate executives at different levels in the country. More importantly, as investors, we aim to uncover the companies that can emerge as long-term winners in a more equal China.
As of June 30, 2012, Matthews Asia Funds held no positions in Mastercard Inc.
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